May 19, 2022
Vagabond’s Note: This is the second in a series of Geo-History stories about the interactions between the Americans and the Lenape or Delaware Indians during the time of the American Revolution. At the end of each story, I will provide the GPS coordinates for some of the places mentioned so that readers can visit those locations or use Google Earth to virtually visit those locations. Instead of “Geocaching” we are playing “Geo-History.”
I have spoken to some of my Native American historian friends about using the term” Indian” in my writings to see if it is considered offensive. They told me that referring to native peoples as Indians is not offensive and pointed out that their own website is entitled: “The Official Web Site of the Delaware Tribe of Indians.”
The Delaware Indian Nation
The Lenape people inhabited the region around the Delaware River basin when the first Europeans arrived. As the European settlers began to claim ownership of the Lenape homeland, the Indian people were confused because they had no concept of land ownership. The Lenape were known as peacemakers, so they migrated west as more and more Europeans staked claims along the Delaware River.
As they moved further into western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, they became known as the “Delawares” because they had come from the Delaware River Valley. A few of the Delawares settled in what is now northwestern Pennsylvania, but most moved further west into the Ohio country near the Muskingum and Tuscarawas rivers. By the time of the American Revolution, the Delaware Nation had become a powerful influence in eastern Ohio. Even so, most of the peace-loving Delawares remained neutral during the early stages of the conflict.
Ministers David Zeisberger and John Heckewelder along with eight other Moravian missionaries began to convert the Delawares to Christianity and built several Christian Indian towns along the Tuscarawas River.
The Treaty of Fort Pitt
The Delaware people were shocked when the militiamen murdered their family members at the peaceful village on the Beaver River during the winter of 1778. (See Geohistory: The Squaw Campaign.) The chiefs of the three Lenape clans decided together to seek a peace treaty with the Americans to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
If you read the story about the Squaw Campaign, you will recall that General George Washington sent General Edward Hand to Fort Pitt. Washington tasked Hand with organizing the “Western Department” to defend against the British headquartered at Fort Detroit and against the Native Americans who allied with the British.
The Native Americans had been waging terrorist warfare against the families of men from Virginia and Pennsylvania who were serving in the Continental Army back east. General Hand arrived at Fort Pitt on June 1, 1777. In December, 1777, Hand wrote a letter to Washington describing the undisciplined nature of the militiamen from Westmoreland County, PA and Ohio County, VA.
The volunteer militiamen only followed orders as they pleased. As a result, Hand had difficulty forming them into an army that could function as a single unit.
Hand became so appalled by the behavior of the militiamen during the Squaw Campaign, that he sent another letter to Washington and to the Continental Congress in May of 1778 requesting to be relieved of command of the Western Division and reassigned back east. In response to Hand’s second letter, Washington transferred the 8th Pennsylvania and 13th Virginia regiments to Fort Pitt to Strengthen the Western Division. In August, 1778, Washington sent General Lathan McIntosh to replace Hand as commander at Fort Pitt.
Shortly after assuming command, McIntosh received word that Chief White Eyes of the Lenape Nation requested they meet to negotiate a peace treaty between the Delawares and the Americans. McIntosh invited the Lenape chiefs to Fort Pitt to work out the details of the treaty. On September 17, 1778, Chief White Eyes of the Turkey Clan, Chief Pipe (Hopocan) of the Wolf Clan, and Chief John Kill Buck (Gelelemend) of the Turtle Clan signed the Treaty of Fort Pitt (Full text of the treaty) on behalf of the Lenape Nation.
Andrew Lewis and Thomas Lewis signed the treaty on behalf of the Americans with McIntosh, Colonel Daniel Broadhead, and Colonel William Crawford signing as witnesses. The treaty recognized the Lenape People as a sovereign nation and granted them a representative in the Continental Congress. The Lenape promised to remain neutral during the conflict between the British and the Americans and to supply provisions and other support when they could. They also granted permission for the Americans to travel through the Lenape lands and for the Americans to build a fort in the Ohio country for their protection. In exchange, the Americans promised to protect the Delawares from harm and to provide them with firearms, tools, clothing, and cooking utensils.
After signing the peace treaty, McIntosh took a small army north along the Ohio River. In October, 1778, they reached the confluence of the Beaver River where it emptied into the Ohio. There, they build a fort which McIntosh named after himself.
After completing Fort McIntosh, the expedition continued west until they reached the Tuscarawas River at a site just south of the modern-day town of Bolivar, Ohio. There, they constructed another fort which they named Fort Laurens in honor of the President of the Continental Congress, Henry Laurens. McIntosh envisioned Fort Laurens as a base from which the Western Division could launch attacks on the British at Fort Detroit and their Native American Allies on the Sandusky River. They completed the construction of Fort Laurens in early December, 1778. McIntosh left a small contingent of men to defend the fort and the rest returned to Fort Pitt.
The Siege of Fort Laurens
Encouraged by British agents, Simon Girty and Alexander McGee, the Wyandots and other Native Americans attacked the poorly defended fort almost immediately. During February, 1779, Simon Girty and a small army of Native Americans began a siege of Fort Laurens. The defenders consisted largely of men from the 8th Pennsylvania and 13th Virginia regiments of the Continental Army.
By the time the siege was lifted in late March, starvation had forced the defenders to grubbing for roots and boiling rawhide moccasins to make soup. In August 1779, the Americans abandoned Fort Lauren by which time twenty of their companions had lost their lives.
The men were buried in a small cemetery near the fort. It is worthwhile to note that the men from the 8th PA and 13th VA had spent the previous winter enduring the hardships at Valley Forge.
In 1772, Moravian missionary, Reverend David Zeisberger, accompanied by his assistant, John Heckewelder, their Christian Indian followers, and several other white helpers, moved from near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to the Tuscarawas River region in northeastern Ohio where they built the towns of Shoenbrunn and Gnaddenhutten.
When the war between the colonies and the British broke out, Chief White Eyes of the Delawares suggested that the Christian Indians should move to a location near the main Delaware town of Goschachgunk (Joining of the Rivers) so that he could protect them from harm since most of the Moravian Christian Indians were Delawares. The name of the town of Goschachgunk was later changed to Coshocton which evolved into present day city by the same name.
The next installment in this series will describe the massacre at Coshocton and the final installment will describe the murders of the 96 Christian Indians at Gnadenhutten.
Each of the following sets of GPS coordinates will take you to a historic marker or historic site related to one of the locations where events described in the above story took place.
If you are unable to travel to those locations and visit them in person, copy the coordinates and paste them into the search box on Google Earth. Then, Use the Google Street View to take a look at the location. Have Fun!
Delaware River Basin:
GPS Coordinates: 40° 21.643′ N 74° 56.680′ W
GPS Coordinates: 40° 26.468′ N, 80° 0.597′ W
This site is located at the Point in Pittsburgh, PA
GPS Coordinates: N 40° 41′ 27.7″ W 80° 18′ 14.3″
A small park along the river commemorates the location of Fort McIntosh. It features several historical markers.
GPS Coordinates: N 40° 38′ 21.9″ W 81° 27′ 20.6″
A small park also commemorates the location of Fort Laurens. If you visit the site in person, be sure to take a walk along the Ohio and Erie Canal which passes through the site of the fort. This is a great place to go with your children.
GPS Coordinates for Some of the Delaware Indian Towns in Ohio in the 1770’s
- Newcomerstown Coordinates: N 40° 16′ 28.77″, W 81° 35′ 24.56″
- Lichtenau Coordinates: N 40° 14′ 46.69″, W 81° 52′ 14.54″
- Coshocton Coordinates: N 40° 16′ 33.2″, W 81° 50′ 39.8″
- Salem Coordinates: N 40° 18′ 24.21″, W 81° 32′ 14.54″
Thanks for taking time to read my story. Please contribute your comments! – VH
Please also check out previous installments of this series:
– Geohistory: Flint Ridge
– Geohistory: USS Shenandoah
– Geohistory: Sears Mail Order Houses
– Geohistory: 135th Ohio Infantry at Andersonville Prison
– Geohistory: The Squaw Campaign